McDonalds Rethinking Pie?
A little desperate, I went to a McDonalds drive-thru on the day before Thanksgiving to get a Happy Meal for my daughter and an impulse treat for me. Why was I surprised that McDonalds was offering up their take on an American classic, Pumpkin Pie? But let us not call it pumpkin pie, let us call it pie filling in a Frosted Hot Pocket. And even then, who knows how much actual pumpkin is in there? But I was willing — like Linus Van Pelt — to believe in a pumpkin that may or may not exist.
“You’ve run out? Really??” This is McDonalds, right? Aren't modern corporations supposed to be wizards at manipulating the supply chain to make sure Tim Clue gets his dang Frosted Pumpkin Hot Pocket?
And then, out of the squawk box: “Sir, would you like to try one of our Cluster Pies instead?”
Huh? Cluster what? Wow, I’ve never even heard of cluster pie. But I’m hooked because if McDonalds is doing a rethink on the pie, I need to be in the know.
Okay, Cluster Pie, sure, great, what is it?
"I don't know," she said, earning points for honesty if not expertise. “I think it has vanilla in it," she offered gamely.
I pull up to the window and I can’t stop thinking about cluster pie and its many possibilities. Hell, maybe they’re onto something. I consider contacting CNN’s Anthony Bourdain of “Parts Unknown” fame and pitching him “Pies Unknown.”
I flip my daughter her Happy Meal and quickly pop open my pie box, slip it out and break it in half just to see what pie clustering looks like, and this is when things became less interesting but more clear.
“CUSTARD pie! Not cluster pie. But of course!”
You see, it appears our McLennial had accidently rebranded that twentieth century classic custard pie into “Cluster Pie.” OMG!
Sure, I had a little chuckle at her mistake, but after my first bite I thought maybe she was right because this really is …
A cluster of unidentifiable flavors. A cluster of mysterious chemicals. A cluster of WTF am I eating?
I wanted a turnover do-over.
Soon I was rushing mouth to napkin and napkin into trash. I even gave it an angry squeeze. And while not a Top Chef, I know pie should not feel like play-dough, or more importantly, taste like it.
As I made the last turn for home I wondered if I had just tasted Custard's Last Stand.
Fortunately, at my family’s recent Thanksgiving, I was able to sample real pies made with real love and, more importantly, real ingredients — including a pumpkin, a raisin, and yes: a genuine, authentic, old-school custard pie.
Interesting addendum: Whenever possible, I forgo the tiny pie plate reserved for one meager slice of pie and opt for a dinner plate. Yes, Pie As Meal is both viable and real. And after I had nearly dusted off three glorious gobs of baked love, I noticed there was just enough of each left on the plate to combine — or dare I say “cluster” — a new taste combo.
I’m happy to report — after just 24 hours earlier having glimpsed the Pastry Abyss — that my experiment was a cluster of pure joy.
Finally, some Pie Take-Aways:
1. Pie from box: never good. 2. Cluster of real pie beats cluster of chemical pie every time. 3. If at first you don't succeed ... pie, pie again.
I’m tweeting Mr. Bourdain as I post …